Netflix’s Chilling Adventures of Sabrina
Chapter Fifteen: “Doctor Cerberus’s House of Horror”
Directed by Alex Garcia Lopez
Written by Ross Maxwell
* For a recap & review of Chapter Fourteen, “Lupercalia” – click here
* For a recap & review of Chapter Sixteen, “Blackwood” – click here
At the bookstore, Hilda (Lucy Davis) and Dr. Cee (Alessandro Juliani) are expecting a slow day because of the rain. They sneak a little kiss, but they’re interrupted when the wind blows the door open, so it seems. an old woman— a fortune teller (Veronica Cartwright)— turns up speaking about “the art of Tarot” and offering a reading. Soon, Sabrina (Kiernan Shipka) and Nick (Gavin Leatherwood) arrive to waste time. She’s finding their relationship weird after Lupercalia. So, auntie suggests a reading from the teller. Sabrina sits down with her and says she feels she’s been going “down a darker path” than usual since dating Scratch. His latest lie about his familiar has Sabrina questioning her choices.
Art note: The painting above of the tower, which hangs in the Academy of Unseen Arts, is a slightly cropped version of “Italian Coast Scene with Ruined Tower” from 1838, by painter Thomas Cole. You can see the full version here.
At the Academy, Nick is giggling with the Weird Sisters when Sabrina finds them. There’s a talent show coming up. The ladies are wondering if Nick is preparing an act. He might do “stage magic” with the help of an assistant. Sabrina isn’t happy about the Sisters knowing what happened during Lupercalia. They taunt her about leaving him with “blue balls.” Again, the young witch is curious about her new beau’s honesty, or lack thereof. He gaslights her as “the jealous type.” And she’s over his shit.
Go ‘head, girl!
The Spellbinding Scratch gives his show for a crowd of ladies. He needs a couple girls to help, so Agatha (Adeline Rudolph) and Dorcas (Abigail F. Cowen) are called up. Agatha gets inside the fabled magician’s box to be sawed in two. Dorcas helps Scratch saw away, then they separate Agatha in bloody pieces— the blood spatter is so bright and campy this is certainly an homage to the 1970 Herschell Gordon Lewis splatter film The Wizard of Gore. Of course, the lady’s fine, and they reveal her from the magic cabinet.
Next, Prudence (Tati Gabrielle) is called to help the Spellbinding Scratch. He wants to go to “the Other Realm.” She goes into the cabinet, he recites an incantation, then she’s astral projecting. She’s scared. She wants to come back. So, he conjures her back to the cabinet. But, wait— she won’t come back. It’s all a trick, and Sabrina’s embarrassed when she freaks out.
For the final act, she offers to go onstage. The Spellbinding Scratch is going to make her float. Sabrina lies down and he lifts her into the air. Prudence plays her own trick, fucking with Nick’s abilities and raising Sabrina further up through the roof and into the night sky. This is what the fortune teller predicted, that she would “freeze to death in outer space.” Unless she trusts in Nick.
Are you ready to become?
Skip over to Theo (Lachlan Watson) meeting the teller, who talks about Theo’s search for identity. We see Theo at home, dealing with the reality of his body remaining feminine. Aunt Dorothea (Anastasia Bandey) suggests seeking out the help of witches to make the changes necessary. Theo finds Gendered Spells of Metamorphosis. He goes about mixing the ingredients. In the morning, his voice is much deeper. His body’s more masculine with hair and bulging muscles.
Could it be too good to be true?
Theo notices a strange growth on his hand leading up his arm like a rotting tree. He goes to the Spellman house to see Aunt Hilda, showing her the arm that’s now TOTALLY BECOME A TREE LIMB “like poor little Pinocchio in reverse.” The spell is either undone, entirely, or the arm’s chopped off. Theo refuses to let go of his new body. He wants to chop off the limb. His father helps, then the boy lies in bed to recuperate. After that, he sees his legs are becoming tree limbs. A never ending struggle. A painful allegory for the difficulties of being transgender, having to deal with a body that’s not the one you belong in and the pain of being trapped within it, as well as the physical pains of the medical transition. Theo’s a much needed character in TV, whose journey is neither cliche nor is it foolish tragedy porn for straight people. He seems so genuine. To see his story reflected in horror is magnificent.
Will he try the potion? Or will he listen to this fortune teller’s warning?
“Best of all? I’m still me.”
Roz (Jaz Sinclair) goes to visit the teller this time. She’s gone blind fully. We see her at the doctor with her father. They’re going to try an experimental, expensive procedure to bring back her sight. Roz opts to give it a chance. When she comes out of surgery, she can see. All her friends are waiting and she’s overwhelmed by being able to see them again.
But Roz doesn’t dig how her dad got his church to help pay for the operation. Same as when he needed money for their home. Despite Harvey trying to assuage her guilt, she feels guilty. She wants to help people through community service as a way to work out her feelings. She’s sent to a girl whose eyesight was taken suddenly. You can SEE where this is going, right? “You stole my eyes,” the girl says in an eerie voice, removing her bandages to reveal open sockets.
More potential future(s). Roz tells her father she doesn’t want money from the church. She’ll wait for her operation instead, heeding what could be if she decides differently.
Next is Zelda. We see her getting ready for her marriage. She’s feeling bad about the baby she whisked off from Faustus (Richard Coyle). She wants to come clean before she gets married. She goes looking for Desmelda and finds a young woman claiming to be her, after having eaten baby Leticia to “absorb her youth.” Yummy! The old-young witch wants an invite to the wedding, or she’ll reveal what’s occurred.
Obviously Zelda plays along. After the wedding ceremony, she discovers Faustus and Desmelda making out in his office. It’s a warlock custom. The problem is Desmelda. That’s when Zelda is mocked by everyone watching. Everybody’s laughing.
So, will Zelda heed the teller’s warnings? “Some secrets should remain secret.”
Harvey gets a reading from the fortune teller, too. He gets accepted into the Arkham Colony for the Arts in Rhode Island. He heads off to where he’ll be living with other artists. He’s got an apartment with a painter named Howard— lots of great H.P. Lovecraft connections here with Arkham (originally from Lovecraft, where the Batman writers got their inspiration for the asylum) and the Providence, Rhode Island setting, as well as Howard’s later talk of “Old Ones.”
Soundtrack note: Harvey’s listening to “Submission” by the Sex Pistols while drawing.
When Harvey wakes in the night, he finds Howard speaking with his “Muses” and painting. Very eerie stuff. The next day, Harvey looks at the paintings. He recognises one of the images as the horned beast he saw in Greendale. He questions Howard. And they’ve both seen “harbingers of the void.” The painter warns they’re beginning to emerge into the world. One morning, Harvey wakes to see his roommate’s hung himself, and outside is a strange, tentacled world.
The fortune teller explains Mr. Kinkle doesn’t need to leave home to suffer for his art.
Ambrose sees the teller. We watch him go to Faustus’s office. Father Blackwood wants to know if the young man is loyal. They go to the desecrated church to do alchemy. Ambrose is gradually being shifted towards what Father Blackwood wants, hoping to do away with the influence of women over this warlock. Can’t run a patriarchy with feminist men around, right?
What exactly does Ambrose have to do to prove loyalty? Kill the Spellman witches.
Will Ambrose listen to the fortune teller? Will he take heed in her warnings about the corrosive influence of Faustus? We can hope. His story dives into the effects of toxic masculinity (yes, there are OTHER types of masculinity) on other men, and how the perpetuation of those negative ideals of manhood can lead to terrible consequences. Excellent to watch Ambrose divided between the Church of Night and his family of women. The whole situation’s particularly relevant in 2019.
“If the Apocalypse is upon us, even His plans might go awry,
in which case, all Hell would break loose,
and it would be every woman for herself.”
Best part of all this? Madam Satan (Michelle Gomez) was posing as the fortune teller.
Great episode. Love the inclusion of the tarot, going against all the stereotypical tarot imagery often found in film and television. Also, this episode divides the characters up into short segments which help further their development. So much plot in a single chapter.
Chapter Sixteen: “Blackwood” is next.